Chic Spotlight: Executive Director of Summerfair Cincinnati, Sharon Strubbe

Chic Spotlight: Executive Director of Summerfair Cincinnati, Sharon Strubbe

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Cincy Chic: You are executive director of Summerfair Cincinnati. What is your favorite thing about your job?
Sharon Strubbe: When my family moved to Cincinnati in 1993 from Florida, one of the first events I attended was Summerfair Cincinnati. Being a visual arts educator and, at the time, attending [the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning] as a graduate assistant in art education, I was overwhelmed with the quality of the exhibitors that I saw and upon reading the program and seeing the list of volunteers, wondered, “Who are all these people and how are they lucky enough to get involved with this great show?” I continued to make a point of getting to Summerfair Cincinnati every year (rain or shine!), adding to my jewelry and ceramics collection. Then, in 2006, when I saw that the executive director position was open, I applied and landed my “dream” job! Of course, the annual Fair is a highlight, and working with such a dedicated group of volunteers who really have the implementation of the Fair down to a science is amazing. As a staff of one, having a dedicated and enthusiastic volunteer board and membership is how we make things happen!


I’m also really enjoying the challenge of growing the public’s awareness of our year round initiatives through a variety of marketing initiatives. Our mission is: “Promoting and Supporting Artists and the Arts in Greater Cincinnati year round,” and getting the word out about how we use the net profits from our major fundraiser — the annual Fair — to support individual professional artists, high school art students, second-tier arts organizations and emerging artists through grants, scholarships and exhibitions, is really challenging and exciting! Making the general public and potential corporate sponsors aware that Summerfair Cincinnati is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that does not receive any funding from local, state or national governments and that the money (profit) from the Fair is used to link back directly to the local arts community is what the majority of my time is spent on during the year (before and after the Fair!).



We’ve also recently moved to a new, temporary space while we await the build-out of our permanent home in the Anderson Center. For the first time in the organization’s history, we’ll have a “real” gallery in which we’ll be able to exhibit the Summerfair Cincinnati collection (at each year’s Fair, we purchase a piece from our “Best of Show” winner). It’s a really exciting time to be involved with the organization. We’re always looking for new volunteer members to join us! Our monthly membership meetings are open to the public and there’s a calendar of events on our Web site with dates, times and locations.


Cincy Chic: The Summerfair Year Round program is an online shopping gallery that allows people to shop virtually the featured artists from Summerfairs of the past. What is the most popular online item/artist?
Strubbe: This is a really young (second year) program. We implemented it as a way to keep Summerfair Cincinnati “alive” after the Fair by giving our local patrons a way of re-connecting with exhibitors for those one-of-a-kind items they might be seeking for special events, holiday shopping, etc. The exhibitors currently listed on our site are also patrons of the arts as they each donated $25 towards our grants/scholarship program to have their Web site listed. We don’t track the click-throughs to each site. However, I do know that these links have been well received by local art patrons, looking to purchase additional works of art from their favorite Summerfair Cincinnati exhibitor(s).


Cincy Chic: What are some programs or initiatives that Summerfair Cincinnati offers local artists and the community of which people might not be aware?
There are several grant/scholarship/competition programs that we offer, all driven by the net profits from our annual fundraiser, the Fair at Coney Island: The Aid to Individual Artists (AIA) Grant, the annual Summerfair Cincinnati Poster competition, Small Arts Organizations grants and high school scholarships.


There’s also the emerging artists exhibition. We are currently in the process of “retooling” this initiative. Typically, we work with the department heads of the art departments of the local universities in selecting two junior-level fine art students who are invited to exhibit their work in a professional setting in which both the students and Summerfair Cincinnati invite the public. I’m now in the process of connecting with those local deparment heads to revive this initiative for an exhibition here at the Anderson Center.


Cincy Chic: In your opinion, what is “art?”
Strubbe: “Art” is that painting, sculpture, carving, photograph, piece of jewelry or clothing, piece of music, dance movement or work of performance that moves you, that makes you feel something, that gives you goose bumps and a feeling of awe every time you look at it or hear it. It’s what makes us human and civilized. It’s beauty and passion at its most elemental. It’s something we all need in our lives to make that life worth living.


0708DEGROOT_FASHION.gif Cincy Chic: What advice do you have for “struggling” artists who are trying to get their name/craft out there and be successful?
Strubbe: Become your own best supporter. Learn to market yourself and your work. Attend workshops on how to market your art. Join the National Association of Individual Artists (NAIA) — a great resource for those looking for ways to market/sell their work. Read up on marketing your art (lots of sites on the Internet or check out professional magazines such as Sunshine Artist). Network with other professional artists. Make a point of attending local/regional art shows (and galleries) and talking with the exhibitors. I find that most artists love to talk about themselves (who doesn’t?) and share ideas, etc. Apply for grants from Summerfair Cincinnati!


Cincy Chic: How does Cincinnati fare on the artistic scale? What is the involvement of women and the arts locally?
Strubbe: I’ve lived in several major cities (Washington, D.C.; Tampa; and Denver), and truly, we are blessed to have the level and number of arts entities in Cincinnati: nationally recognized symphony, art museums, ballet and then all the second tier organizations that bring new works, new levels of excitement and opportunities for all age levels to participate. It’s like a high quality smorgasbord where there truly is something for everyone! It certainly brings just that much more quality of life for everyone in the region. I’ve met a lot of female “movers and shakers” in the arts, all of whom are passionate about the arts, whether it’s their full-time job or as an arts patron/volunteer. It’s very inspiring to have such a great group of women to connect with and go to for insight and mentoring.


Cincy Chic: You have taught elementary and middle school visual artclasses before. Why is it so important to keep arts in schools?
Strubbe: Because as human beings, we are all creative and need — for a good quality of life and for mental health — that outlet for our creativity. Art education allows for the process of creative thinking, of learning how to use a variety of skills to tackle and solve problems in an “out of the box” level — which, if you read business publications, CEO’s continue to seek out in their new hires. It can’t be all about “teaching to the test.” The goal of education should be to instill the joy of education and learning, expression and problem solving. And what better way than through the arts?


Cincy Chic: What type of art do you like? How do you describe your artistic tastes?
Strubbe: I’m really into American folk art, both contemporary and historic. I did my masters’ thesis on contemporary folk art: The Kentucky Carvers. I’d say that my artistic tastes are eclectic. I can swoon over a marvelous piece of antique folk art just as much as a poppy painting by Georgia O’Keefe or Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and can be moved to tears by a well presented piece of classical music or something patriotic played by the Cincinnati Pops. I’m totally in awe of artists and musicians and enjoy it all.


Cincy Chic: What is your favorite thing about Cincinnati?
Strubbe: I could list at least 100! It’s the perfect city in which to raise a family. There’s always at least 10 things I want to do on the weekend! It’s a town of readers. Hanging out at Joseph-Beth on a rainy weekend day is heaven. And of course, I’ve fallen in love with Graeter’s and Skyline. Plus, it’s almost like “home.” (I was born and raised in Virginia.) It’s not too far a drive to find the Appalachian foothills. The falls here are gorgeous. And of course, there’s UC Bearcat football!


Editor’s note: Save the date! Summerfair 2009 will run May 29-31. Keep checking Summerfair Cincinnati for more details. 


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Photo: Courtesy of
Summerfair Cincinnati